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Mark Messier “ready to pass the torch” to Jaromir Jagr

Jagr needs three points to tie Messier for 2nd all-time

Jaromir Jagr (left) and Mark Messier (Getty Images)

Jaromir Jagr (left) and Mark Messier (Getty Images)

 

We’re kicking Jaromir Jagr-Watch into full gear!  Just four points ahead of Jagr for second place in all-time scoring in the NHL, Mark Messier says he’s ready to pass on the torch to the 44-year old that, despite his age and the conventional physiological standards, shows no signs of slowing down.

Let us back-track, shall we?  Like Wayne Gretzky, Messier began his pro-hockey career in the WHA.  But unlike Gretzky, the all-time leader in scoring in the NHL, Messier entered the NHL draft in 1979.  Messier was chosen in the third round (48th overall) by the Edmonton Oilers, an NHL expansion team as a result of the folding of the WHA.  In the coming decade, Messier would go on to, first and foremost – by his standards, win five Stanley Cups (one without The Great One).  Along the way, he also become the recipient of the Conn Smythe Trophy (playoff MVP) in 1984; appear in four all-star games; be awarded the Hart Trophy (league MVP) and Ted Lindsay Award (most outstanding player as voted by the NHLPA) in the same season (1989-90).

Fast forward a few days short of the official start of the summer of 1990.  Mark Messier had just led the Edmonton Oilers to their fifth Stanley Cup in franchise history – all in fewer than seven seasons.  We’re in Vancouver, British Columbia and the NHL’s General Managers are at their tables getting ready for the first round of the NHL Entry Draft.  The NHL Central Scouting Bureau had its official list of top skaters and top goaltending prospects for the upcoming draft.  Only two players were not Canadian: Petr Nedved from Czechoslovakia and Derian Hatcher from the United States.  With the fifth selection, the Pittsburgh Penguins selected, out of Czechoslovakia, forward Jaromir Jagr.

Jaromir Jagr’s impact on the game showed immediately, Messier remembers.  Jagr won the Stanley Cup with the Penguins twice in his first two seasons.  His impact came from his stature of 6’3”, 230 pounds; his incredible speed; his ability to beat defenders one-on-one, especially in tight spaces; and Messier touts Jagr as the type of player that once across the blue line into the zone, he’s simply dominant, being nearly impossible to contain in the offensive zone.  Messier is impressed by his abilities in the corners, lauding him as being one of the best corner-men the game has ever seen, using his skill in cycling the puck effectively down low.  He’s also impressed by Jagr’s positioning in front of the net, seemingly to always be in the right place at the right time.

To Mark Messier, winning is everything.  He recalls being “programmed” at a young age to always figure out how to win – whether it is before the game, during play, or after the final buzzer.  This explains why he’s surprised he’s been second in all-time scoring since surpassing the late Gordie Howe for this long.

But we’re not surprised.  On May 25th, 1994, Messier made a promise – a guarantee – that the New York Rangers would overcome a 3-2 series deficit against the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals.  With 1:53 left on the clock, up 3-2, and forced to kill off a penalty, the Rangers faced a six-on-four advantage, Devils’ goaltender Martin Brodeur having been pulled for an extra attacker.  Messier won the draw, the puck caromed back behind the net, John MacLean of the Devils picked it up, and looked to center for a shot-attempt.  Messier intercepted the pass and fired the puck at the empty net, securing himself a hat-trick, and more importantly, a victory in a do-or-die elimination game.

Today, Mark Messier is astounded by Jagr’s passion for the game, his dedication and conditioning, and how Jagr is above else genetically fit to perform consistently for as long as he has.  When Messier scored that hattrick in game six of the ECF, Bill Clement and Gary Thorne discussed how Messier was “genetically perfect” for big moments like that.  So coming from Messier, it must be so that Jagr is a near perfect genetic specimen to be able to perform so consistently at age 44.  It takes one to know one, right?

Heading into Thursday night’s matchup between the Panthers and Winnipeg Jets, Jagr sits just four points behind Messier to tie for second in all-time points scored in the NHL.  Messier believes it’s anti-climactic – firstly, if Jagr hadn’t left for the KHL for a few seasons, Jagr would have already passed Messier years ago; and secondly, because Messier feels the milestone being surpassed by Jagr is a “forgone conclusion” in that it is inevitable.  But, Messier says he would like to be present if he can to personally congratulate Jagr when Jagr surpasses him for second place.  He’s ready to pass the torch along, as an elder statesman of the game of hockey – amongst the best in the world to ever play the game – to a younger generation of hockey players (even though Jagr is only eleven years younger).  Messier is excited that Jagr is inspiring the next generation of fans and players alike.

Messier recalls what a humbling experience it was for him personally and for his family when he surpassed Mr. Hockey in points.  As mentioned before, Messier never really concerned himself with the individual statistics when compared to the overall reason to play in the NHL – the win the Stanley Cup.  But passing Gordie meant more in the bigger context of what it takes to be a professional hockey player.  He complemented Jagr’s training and conditioning away from the ice as “legendary”, as the 44-year old has been known to hit the gym in the wee hours of the night, even after a full day of practice and playing a game.  This kind of dedication allows a player to perform consistently for such a long period of time, longer than the average career of an NHL player.  In fact, Jagr is the only current player in the NHL that was drafted before 1995.  Shane Doan and Jarome Iginla represent the only current players drafted in 1995.

When Wayne and Messier passed Gordie in all-time scoring, Gordie’s accomplishments were certainly not diminished.  Gordie set the bar, just as Maurice “The Rocket” Richard and Howie Morenz did before him.  Other players followed suit in setting the bar even higher.  And when Jagr passes Messier – whenever that will be – he will do so for players after him.  Looking at today’s veterans like Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin, and younger stars of the game, like McDavid, Eichel, Matthews, Laine, and co., we can only sit back and watch – waiting for the bar to be reset.  And the next generation of hockey players will be inspired to achieve what had not been achieved before.  Until then, as I say, stay tuned…

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Evan is the Hockey Editor for DoubleGSports.com. He provides coverage of the New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, and Philadelphia Flyers, as well as some league-wide content.
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